It is 8:30 pm on a Thursday night when I catch the first glimpse of Armenia on a bus from Neiva. The bus is already two hours behind schedule and is winding down the narrow hills struggling to arrive in Armenia through highway traffic. Underneath the winding hills is the ocean of night lights lighting up the entire Armenia as a welcoming sign for me to arrive in this beautiful city in Colombia’s coffee region, and I know in my heart that I made a right decision to visit Armenia.
For one thing, Armenia was never the place I first planned to visit in Colombia, but it was the city that charmed me at first sight. Over the next few days, Armenia constantly proved its charm, and locals are happy, welcoming, and proud of their home. I originally booked two days in Armenia, which turned into four days, and then seven days, and it was all because of the outstanding character the city presents: beautiful gardens, cool night breeze, sunny weather, the best coffee, the beautiful countryside, happy and helpful locals, and mixed with a relaxing vibe.
In Armenia, I do not have must-see places for anyone. There are coffee plantations, parks, gardens, museums and activities for visitors to explore, and day trips to nearby towns to get the best out of the coffee region.
Take an authentic coffee tour in Buenavista
Despite Armenia having National Coffee Park, it is a pleasant experience to take an authentic coffee tour of a finca. After all, you are in the coffee region and you want to have an authentic learning experience of coffee history and the coffee-making process.
I visited Leo’s Finca La Alsacia in Buenavista, a small town that is 40 minutes away from Armenia. Finca La Alsacia not only has many coffee plants, it has plenty fruit plants and trees. Although I did not expect to see any fruit trees, I was still mesmerized by the tastier bananas ripped from the banana trees and seeing red pineapples during their infancy stage.
In Finca La Alsacia, you will gain insights on the coffee industry through the insights of a farmer. Leo has many years of running his own finca. Not only did he show me the process of picking and planting seeds, storage, processing the beans and making coffee, he is a vivid story teller who gave me his personal insights on Colombia’s history, where discrimination happened and how it affected his coffee farm. Also, his wife is a chef and I got to taste home-made food in a beautiful rural setting with lush mountains as a backdrop.
Leo cares about his visitors and the hours of the tour are not fixed. You can ask him questions and stay on his farm chatting with his family and friends as long as you want. The tour was in Spanish and they offered me an English translator at no extra cost; they also welcomed me with a taste of the best coffee at the square.
Balsaje Por El Rio La Vieja in Quimbaya – the best day in Colombia
The five hours bamboo raft tour on Rio La Vieja was the highlight of my Colombia trip. Of course, I cannot tell what to expect during the trip because the brochure and the pictures really do not do justice to how fun this trip is.
It started with Willy’s jeep transportation with our group of 11 people loaded onto the back of the jeep. The Jeep went along the narrow road of the countryside where we got to see the beautiful scenery passing while talking and laughing with each other. After about a 20-minute ride, we were on board a bamboo raft to begin our journey into the Rio La Vieja.
Shortly after the boat left the dock, two rafters turned on the salsa music that prompted a party on the boat. We were encouraged to get into the water and swim in some parts. Some currents were safe for us, so we waited till the two rafters told us to jump. We swam for a short stint and screamed happily when the swirls of currents pushed us forward. The music did not stop, neither did the boat—it was in motion and waited for us to get back on to continue our happiness.
Halfway down the river, we stopped and paid $2000 pesos to walk to a spectacular waterfall that had a 40-meter drop. The water was very cold but we were still shouting and playing in the waterfalls regardless. On our way to the waterfalls, we saw the countryside of the beautiful coffee region, the flowers, the horses, and the verdant hills. This became our backdrop when we had delicious fiambre lunch cooked in a plantain leaf.
Quindio Botanical Garden – where butterflies thrive
Quindio Botanical Garden’s main mission is to preserve a collection of trees, plants, and species in the Quindio region. Before my visit, I thought it was just a regular garden where you could see the flowers, plants, and birds. Instead, I spent the morning hike through a mini-jungle where I learned the geological and agricultural background of certain species and their potential use through a two-hour guided tour.
The ground of the botanical garden is well-maintained so it was an easy walk. We even crossed a suspension bridge and walked through the topiary maze. There is a bird watching area after crossing the suspension bridge, where we watched several colorful birds, including tanagers and toucans, live and play in the gardens inside a dim observation room behind tinted windows.
After several stops and visiting insect museums, we entered Mariposario. There, I saw many different types of butterflies like I have never seen before in my life. There were plenty of lemons and water in the Mariposario so we could dip our fingers in some and feed the butterflies. There were small stairways behind small waterfalls for us to walk up and have a 360-degree view of the butterflies, plants, and the flowers. The best part of this tour is that we could wander through the Mariposario as long as we wanted.
Filandia – the most beautiful town in Colombia
Travelers to Armenia can be a bit obsessed with the coffee in the city but I love the quaintness and the colorful streets of Filandia, with Spanish colonial houses and coffee shops that fill the city with aroma and joy. There are not many travelers that know Filandia, but it is a place where I came for a day trip and wished to stay longer.
You may ask what one can do in Filandia for the day? Basically, I arrived there and did almost nothing—yes, nothing. I just walked through the colorful streets, appreciated the architecture, and took time to sit near the square and drink coffee. It is a charming village with coffee shops at your every footstep as if the entire city is built from the coffee shops with colorful facades and large indoor and outdoor sitting areas.
Or, I could do as much as I want. I walked 20 minutes through the countryside to Mirador. It is a peaceful lookout and you can see rolling green hills, the colorful town of Filandia in the distance, and thunder and clouds in the direction of Armenia.
Filandia is 1600 meters above sea level, so the climate was perfect the day I went. It was neither too hot nor too cold. There were clouds adding dynamic and the sunshine lit up the green pastures.
My favorite part of the Filandia trip was that locals kept coming down and chatting with me at the square and the coffee shop. Everyone welcomed me to this beautiful coffee town. On a colorful street surrounded by coffee shops and flowers, we talked about the books and culture in Colombia. The coffee espresso is made fresh out of the nearby coffee farm and costs only $1000 pesos. Trust me, you do not want to buy Starbucks again after sipping the fresh, smooth, and aromatic scented coffee in Filandia.
Armenia, Colombia – where my heart leaves
I spent the rest of my day in Armenia, did less and had as much fun wandering through the main street lined with pastries, restaurants, street vendors, and coffee shops. In front of a fruit shop, I saw a pile of watermelons, papayas, pineapples, and mangoes that came in a plastic cup with honey. I asked for the watermelon. The owner, about 25 in age, asked where I am come from and told everyone that walked by that I was on vacation. They all welcomed me to Armenia and chatted up with me from late afternoon to sundown. You won’t leave Armenia with a broken heart. You leave with joy and a wish to come back.
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